Like baggy shorts, leisure shoes flit between your riding life and off-the-bike life far more seamlessly than your Lycra and tap dancing race shoes. And in the same way as baggies evolved from Mtb exclusivity to general urban use, leisure shoes have also come a long way from their off-road inspired roots, with an increase in those designed purely for urban riding.
This said, many of the models geared towards roughstuff still transfer well to commuting thanks to their decent tread and durability. There’s also a growing trend towards indoor spinning shoes, which are cool and lightweight, feature smoother soles and a greater emphasis on looks.
All the shoes here are SPD style cleat compatible, for use with clipless pedals to improve efficiency. But even if you prefer flat pedals, cycle specific shoes are still far better than standard trainers. While not as stiff soled as road shoes, they’re more versatile, making them suited to shorter rides and touring -especially for situations where you will be on and off the bike but only want to take one pair of footwear.
Over extended periods of pedalling you may feel some pressure or ‘hotspots’ on the bottom of your foot over where the cleat attaches – this is due to the slight sole flex and more relaxed fit. If road shoes aren’t practical enough but leisure shoes aren’t stiff enough for your all day riding style, then try Mtb race shoes, which offer an efficient sole and a sufficient tread to walk on too.
No leisure shoe will be as stiff as race shoes, but the trade-off is that they’ll be far easier to walk in. Different models vary in stiffness – to test this, use your hands to flex the sole up and down and compare them against each other.
Leisure shoes offer much better grip than a race shoe, with more of a trainer or lightweight-hiker style tread. Some now include Vibram soles – the hardwearing, benchmark brand for hiking footwear. Tread may be lugged for improved grip, though it may clog up too and shed muck on the carpet! Urban inspired shoes tend to have less aggressive tread. Look for the deepest tread to minimise the cleat catching the ground – unfortunately, most could still do with an extra couple of millimetres.
Shoes come with either a rubbery patch covering the cleat holes or a removable hard rubber/plastic cover that’s fixed with screws. If you intend to go clipless, then you need to either cut away the rubber or take off the cover to reveal two sets of bolt holes. Some shoes include a waterproof seal to fix on the inside under the insole once you’ve attached the cleats. If you’re wearing leisure shoes with flat pedals, look for ones that have a more grippy rubber cleat cover as the harder ones can be slippery.
Clipless pedals greatly improve your efficiency and don’t take long to get used to. SPD style pedals are a good start as they’re well priced and widely available, though the Time system offers more float for those with delicate knees. Look for wider pedal platforms to spread the pressure and prevent the sole of a leisure shoe from flexing on either side. Cleats are included with pedals, not shoes.
Leisure shoes aren’t designed to fit as snugly as slipper-like race shoes, as they still need to be comfortable for walking around town. Try them on with the socks you intend to wear and check there’s still room in the front to wiggle your toes, but no excess space at the heel. They should feel comfortable from the first time on, thanks to all-round padding. Feet swell slightly in the heat and after you’ve been standing or walking for some time, so it’s best to try shoes on at the end of the day to ensure you get a big enough size. Some companies, such as Lake, offer different widths too. As tempting as the prices may be, manufacturers vary widely on their sizing and cuts so be wary of buying without trying.
Uppers are usually made from synthetic leather and some have mesh inserts for better ventilation. There tends to be padding around the shoe opening and tongue for comfort, but this makes the shoes warmer, soak up rain, and take longer to dry. For summer use, look for part mesh uppers as this will help keep feet cool, or try a pair of sandals.
Reflectors on the heel will catch headlights when you’re pedalling so you can be seen by traffic. Those on the front or sides are a safety bonus.
Laces blend in better than Velcro, but make sure there’s some way to keep the stray ends out of the drivetrain – elastic tabs, tongue pockets, or a single Velcro strap do the trick.
Aside from the fact that they’re cleat compatible, cycling sandals are far stiffer than those designed for trekking. They’re great for touring in hot and wet climates as they don’t pool any water and dry quicker than padded leisure shoes, keeping your feet feeling fresh and breezy. Shimano’s SD65s (£60) feature a stiff sole and good toe bumper